(Event flyer for Loreto’s talk at the Centro de Estudios Públicos. Source: Twitter.)

In 2016, GOV/LAB provided support for Loreto Cox’s dissertation research examining the political effects of expected versus actual returns to higher education. Her local partner NGO, Fundación por una Carrera, received a detailed report on the evaluation of higher education, labor expectations, and the gap between expected and average income of past graduates. This report on how students view and interact with higher education institutions provides relevant information for the main task of the NGO: expanding higher education access for low-income people. Loreto recently presented part of her research findings at the Centro de Estudios Públicos, a non-partisan think tank in Chile. Below are a few highlights from her presentation, which focused on the policy-oriented results of her broader research. The full presentation is available online here.


In November 2016 in collaboration with 49 higher education institutions, Loreto implemented an online survey to over 14,000 students in Chile who either were in their final year of study or had recently graduated. The purpose of this study was to provide an in-depth evaluation of the Chilean higher education system and to characterize the graduates’ work expectations and perception of the country.

How students choose where and what they study

One question in the survey asked students to select the three most important factors in choosing an institution of higher education. The responses in the chart below identify academic and employment reasons as primary motivators, with academic level and prestige, job opportunities post-graduation, and institute accreditation being the three most popular responses (58%, 30%, and 26% respectively).

The type of students: 4%, Available schedules: 7%, It was the best option given my grades: 11%, Friends or acquaintances recommended it to me: 12%, Location: 18%, Training/areas of specialization in my degree: 18%, Fees and possibilities of funding: 19%, Its accreditation: 26%, Work opportunities of graduates of the institution: 30%, Its academic level and prestige: 58%

Similarly, students identified academic reasons (e.g. rigor, prestige, and available courses) as the most important factors for choosing their degrees, followed by vocation (or calling) and employment opportunities (see chart below).

Frequency of reasons for choosing degree, total and by gender (%). Y axis (from top-to-bottom): Restrictions, Vocation (or Calling), Recommendations, Work/Labor, Academic. Legend: Green = Women, Red = Men, and Blue = Total.

Despite the overwhelming preference of “academic reasons” as the most important factor in choosing a school, differences in funding for students reveals the possibility that financial situations may sort students into different types of institutions. The chart below shows the principal source of funding and type of institution. The blue bars show the percentage of students who primarily rely on scholarships, green shows the percentage that rely on credit or loans, grey: savings, brown: family resources, and red indicates the percentage of students who work while studying to finance their education. Note that students at Technical Training Centers (CFT) and Professional Institutes (IP) primarily enroll students who rely on working to support their education, whereas students at private universities tend to rely on family resources to fund their education.

Type of institution (from left-to-right): Technical Training Center (CFT), Professional Institutes (IP), State Universities, Private Universities, Private Universities of the Council of Rectors of Chile

Mismatched expectations: students won’t earn as much as they think

The survey also revealed that students’ expectations for salaries are far out of line with what national household surveys (CASEN) report. On average, students expect to earn nearly double what they can actually expect to make after graduation: estimating a mean monthly salary of CLP$1,440,000 (median: CLP$1,200,000) or about USD$2,300 (median: USD$2,000), compared to the CASEN survey reporting graduates’ mean earnings of CLP$815,000 (median: CLP$630,000) or about USD$1,300 (median: USD$1,000).

This expectations/earnings gap is not consistent across subgroups of students. The following groups of students expressed expectations that were more in line with actual reported earnings according to the Ministry of Education: female students; students in education, health, and technology; and students with greater academic struggles. However, this study does not provide an explanation for the gap, and further research must be done to understand why this gap exists.

Perceptions of democracy and the economic system

On average, students give the state of the democracy and the economic system in Chile low ratings (3.6 and 3.5 out of 10, respectively), much lower than the general population or even general young population, according to CEP survey (2017). These scores tend to be lower for:

  • students of Technical Training Centers, Professional Institutes, and state universities,
  • students with degrees in education, basic sciences, and humanities,
  • older students, and
  • students from public schools.

And although left-leaning students hold the economic system in substantially lower regard, negative outlooks on the democracy and economic system persist regardless of political ideology. The graph below shows students’ rating of the country’s democracy (blue) and economic system (green) on a 1-to-10 scale.

Responses are grouped (from left to right) by political preference: Left, Center-Left, Center, Center-Right, Right, Independent, and None.

However, there is a group of students that rates state of democracy and the economic system better. They tend to be male, have fewer academic problems, more work experience, right-leaning, individualistic, and believe themselves to be well-prepared and well-positioned to enter the workforce upon graduation. It is possible that differences in personal networks and social capital shield them from some of the financial pressures and difficulties entering the labor force, which in turn may lead to their relatively higher ratings of the economic system.

But despite their overall pessimism, students still report a slightly higher than average life satisfaction, with a much lower variance. These differences (higher average with lower variance) hold even when comparing students’ responses with those from the young Chilean population. This suggests that this finding is more of a “student” effect than a “young person” effect.